steak au poivre

i’d like to have more recipes like this in my arsenal –

the ingredient list is short enough to memorize: everything in small measures (except for the cream, oops), and of the highest quality you dare to buy.

what follows that is an utterly satisfying set of cooking steps (crush, season, sear; pour in, spoon out, whisk, stir). it comes together like a song.

what arrives at the dinner table then is a pepper-crusted round of gorgeously browned beef, poured over with a richly flavored cream sauce good enough to warrant some plate-licking – or at least some very earnest scraping of the spoon.

it’s a dish that’ll please both the hungry steak-lover and the elegant diner – just the thing to bookmark for that holiday coming up in february… or just dinner for your dichotomous self.

Steak au Poivre
adapted from Good Eats and The Pioneer Woman
Makes 2 servings

2 top sirloin, tri-tip, or other good-quality steak (about 1 pound total, no more than 1½ inches thick)
2 tablespoons whole peppercorns
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
¼ cup Dijon mustard
½ cup brandy
1 cup heavy cream

  1. Remove the steaks from the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour prior to cooking. Sprinkle all sides with salt.
  2. Protect your work surface with layer of newspaper. Place peppercorns on a paper towel and fold over so that peppercorns are between two layers of paper towel. Coarsely crush the peppercorns with a mallet, rolling pin, or other weighty object.
  3. Spread the crushed peppercorns evenly onto a plate. Press the filets, on both sides, into the pepper until it coats the surface. Set aside.
  4. In a medium skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and olive oil. As soon as the butter and oil begin to turn golden and smoke, gently place the steaks in the pan. For medium-rare, cook for 4 minutes on each side. Once done, remove the steaks to a plate, tent with foil and set aside. Pour off the excess fat but do not wipe or scrape the pan clean.
  5. Off the heat, add Dijon and brandy to pan, then whisk together. Carefully ignite the alcohol with a long match or firestick. Gently shake pan until the flames die. Return the pan to medium heat and add the cream. Bring the mixture to a boil and whisk until the sauce coats the back of a spoon, approximately 5 to 6 minutes.
  6. Place each steak on a plate, spoon the sauce over, and serve. (You will have sauce left over. Reserve for another use, or – buy more steaks for tomorrow!)

fresh whiskey sours

i do believe we are heading toward longer days. we’ve gotten over the darkest nights of winter and are heading closer now to evenings still graced with that last little bit of daylight. happy hours, indeed.

whiskey sours are perhaps not the most refined of cocktail hour drinks, but they do the trick. ream a few lemon and lime halves and stir the fresh juice around with some sugar syrup and caramel-colored whiskey, and you’ve got yourself something refreshing and sweet and strong, with smoky vanilla undertones. all-around delicious – even if you don’t happen to be a whiskey kind of girl (which i’m not, it turns out).

have one to smooth out the rough ends of the day, or share a pitcherful around a table of friends before hitting the town – the night’ll be a good one.

Fresh Whiskey Sours
adapted from Barefoot Contessa
Makes 4 cocktails

½ cup sugar
½ cup water
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 Meyer lemons, more if you are using regular lemons)
½ cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about 5 limes)
ice cubes
about 1 cup whiskey (I used Maker’s Mark bourbon)

  1. Make simple syrup: bring sugar and water to a boil, and simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved. Allow to cool before using.
  2. Make sour mix: combine the lemon juice, lime juice, and 2/3 cup simple syrup.
  3. Fill each glass halfway with ice. Pour in about 2 parts whiskey and 3 parts sour mix (or to taste). Swirl and drink.

christmas chicken

this is the kind of dinner dish that makes an ordinary tuesday seem special. all you need is to know one day in advance that you’ll be wanting to eat juicy pieces of crispy-skinned chicken, and the rest is just a bit of seasoning and waiting.

buy a chicken: just a few pounds, fresh. make a rub of four spices and salt and sugar, and pat it onto the bird. sneak slivers of garlic under the skin before you tuck the little chicken into the back of your fridge for a day or two.

the rest is a science i would never have been able to work out on my own – a balance of timing and temperature –  but in the end, all you need to know is the clear sizzle of chicken fat melting off to the bottom of the pan. the thin crackle of crisp meat as you flip the roasting bird once and then twice. the scent of the garlic and spices filling the house. warm, inviting, delicious – it feels like christmas.

Christmas Chicken
spice mixture from and roasting method from The Zuni Café Cookbook via smitten kitchen
Serves 3 to 4

a few notes:

  • A small bird is optimal for achieving the crispy-skinned, juicy-on-the-inside thing: it means a shorter stint in the oven and a more generous skin-to-meat ratio
  • Salting the chicken a day in advance and letting it rest in the refrigerator results in a chicken that cooks up more moist and tender
  • Don’t worry about trussing (tying with twine) the drumsticks. The bird ends up looking somewhat immodest, but leaving the legs untied maximizes the amount of skin that can crisp up

2 teaspoons regular or garlic salt
1 teaspoon white sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 (3- to 3 ½-pound) whole chicken
5 cloves garlic, sliced


1 to 3 days before serving:

  1. Remove and discard the neck and giblets (if any) and the lump of fat inside the chicken. Rinse the chicken and pat very dry inside and out. Be thorough — this will ensure a crispy skin and golden-brown bird.
  2. Approaching from the edge of the bird’s cavity, slide a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, making 2 little pockets. Now use the tip of your finger to gently loosen a pocket of skin on the outside of the thickest section of each thigh. Slide the garlic slices into each of the 4 pockets, using your fingers to distribute them evenly beneath the skin.
  3. In a bowl, mix the salt, sugar, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Rub the chicken with the mixture. Cover chicken, and place in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours.

Day of serving:

  1. Preheat the oven to 475°F. Choose a shallow flameproof roasting pan or dish barely larger than the chicken, or use a 10-inch skillet with an all-metal handle. Preheat the pan over medium heat or set dish in oven until hot.
  2. Gently pat the chicken dry if needed. Twist and tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders, and set it breast side up in the pan. It should sizzle.
  3. Place the chicken in the pan in the center of the oven and roast for 30 minutes. Listen and watch for it to start browning within the first 20 minutes. If it doesn’t, raise the temperature progressively until it does. The skin should blister, but if the chicken begins to char, or the fat is smoking, reduce temperature by 25 degrees.
  4. After 30 minutes, carefully turn the bird over. (Drying the bird and preheating the pan will have kept the skin from sticking.) Roast for another 10 to 20 minutes, depending on size.
  5. Carefully flip the bird back over to re-crisp the breast skin, another 5 to 10 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast reads 180°F.
  6. Remove the chicken from the oven and turn off the heat. Lift the chicken from the roasting pan and set on a plate. Carefully pour the clear fat from the roasting pan, leaving the lean drippings behind. Add about a tablespoon of water to the hot pan and swirl it. Stir and scrape to soften any hard golden drippings.
  7. Slash the stretched skin between the thighs and breasts of the chicken, then tilt the bird and plate over the roasting pan to drain the juice into the drippings. Let the chicken rest, covered loosely with foil, for about 15 minutes before serving. (The meat will become more tender and uniformly succulent as it cools.) Serve with drippings on the side, reheated if needed.

the good winter

the last few weeks of 2010 brought along quite a few new favorite recipes: salted caramel cookies i could eat by the stack – with a hot glass of spiced cider nearby; a christmas chicken i will gladly carve up any time of year; fancy gougères (cheese puffs made with gruyère) that bake up hot and crispy straight from the freezer; and the best apple pie i’ve ever made (i ate three slices of it the first day).

those recipes will make their way here in time (stay tuned!), but today i am swaying easy into the new year with this song:



and thinking back on the blessings of friendship, family, and home. my love of food is only trumped by the richness of ways we enjoy it – around the dining table with mom, dad, and brother; in a crowded kitchen brimming with new friends and glasses of bubbly; wrapped up in blankets sitting by the window, looking out through rain-streaked windows at a bright gray sky… and feeling new.